This is post #9 of our Dublin-Berlin trip in September 2018.
When sitting in my house in California, planning this trip, I read lots of guidebooks, and they all emphasized the idea of “kiez” or neighborhoods, as apparently Berlin is less known for a tight list of “must-see” sights and more of, as Rick Steves’ notes, a “choose your own adventure.” And I wanted all the adventures, all the sights, figuring since I would be here almost two weeks, why not?
Our hotel, the Movenpick, was about a 15 minute walk south of the Brandenburg Gate, on the edge of “Mitte,” mostly in Kreuzberg, just south of the former East/West Berlin wall. I found that quite a lot of what I wanted to do was in the former East Germany, whether by plan or by accident.
This is what Dave did every day, and many times, into the late evening.
But that first Tuesday in Berlin, September 18th, I headed out. Since I’d done some reading, most specifically Forty Autumns (Nina Wilner) and Here in Berlin (Cristina Garcia), I felt like the ghost of East Berlin was lurking in my head, and I wanted to see the Wall again, this time by myself. I was quite emotional on Sunday, yet felt constrained by the exhaustion of a new city, the franticness of touristing (See.All.The.Sights) and wanted to just experience it, in a quieter way.
Back up to the Wall, I guided a few tourists to places they wanted to go, and this time I knew the way out of the train station. Not only did I walk the length of the extant wall (and these bars), I took my guidebook’s suggestion and put my hand up on the wall, to touch history.
Dave and I had just been married about three months when the wall came down, and even for a newlywed with all the adjustments we were making (with four children, a move, and a new job) it was a Big Deal. We watched the news reports of people hacking at the wall with sledge hammers, trying to remove that obstacle. But the reality of the wall hit home a couple of years later, when we took a trip to Germany in June 1992, and decided to visit Seiffen, home of nutcrackers in the former East Germany. The idea was to drive to the Erzgebirge Mountains area, and proceed to a tiny town where nutcrackers hailed from, if there was such a place.
But what struck us was when we were finished with our time in that little village. We needed lunch, we needed gas, we needed a place to stay. We stopped by a grocery store, and most of the shelves were (still) empty. I found a box of crackers, and bought a wedge of cheese. The man at the counter folded it up into a piece of waxed butcher paper, put a piece of paper on it listing the cost, then took out a stapler, opened it up to full length and stapled the paper on it, the points of the staple going into the cheese. I felt like I was stealing it.
We sat eating in our car in an abandoned gas station, and an old woman came up, and started talking to us. We didn’t speak German (obviously). But at some point we said “Americans.” She stepped back, and said loudly, “Amerikaners! Amerikaners!” looking around who to tell. She walked off, still saying “Amerikaners!” and we were sufficiently freaked out that we quietly drove off, windows up. We didn’t know if she was reporting us to some authority or excited to see us. In hindsight, I’m pretty sure it was the latter.
We drove to the next town (the days of good paper maps) and it was nearly dinnertime, but there was no one in the town square, a place that felt “gray” even if it wasn’t. We decided we’d better hightail it back to the former Western Germany, as we were getting low on gas, and didn’t see any place to get some, nor a place to stay. That experience, of want, of scarcity, has stuck with me for over twenty-six years, brought back to the fore with our trip to Berlin.
There is a memorial on this site of a chapel, commemorating the old Church of Reconciliation lost during that time; after the Wall went up, it “found itself stranded in the death strip,” according to my guidebook. The only thing remaining from the interior is this fragment of an altar. “After the Wall came down, this chapel was built to remember the troubled past and try to heal the memory” (Rick Steves Guidebook).
Fragment from the exterior of the church.
These “incident markers” were in many places, with the reference code letting you access the website to find out what happened. In this place “Border guards apprehended the apprentice Michael B. from Freital on June 9, 1981 during an escape attempt on Ackerstraße.” The main website for the Memorial has more information.
I thought I should be getting on my way, and turned down a street heading back towards the center. The St. Elisabeth Churchyard beckoned (I love a good cemetery–frankly, a little more cheerful than what I’d just been looking at).
Even the engraving on the tombstones has a different look than what I usually see.
My sister’s last name is Rugh, and so this caught my eye: was it a derivation of her name?
No, it’s a resting place. I sent it to her, and she thought their name had been changed from the original German, so maybe? I left the churchyard/cemetary, and kept walking.
Looks like Klara has lost a shoe. I did notice lost items around town occasionally, the shoe or sweater or cap draped over the nearest taller item, in case the person came back looking for it. As I was photographing the shoe and the colorful painted wall, above, an older woman stopped me to find out if I was lost (I was looking at my phone, trying to decide which direction to go). She moved between three languages: German, English and Spanish, and when I commented on this, she said that her husband — well, not her husband (she said) but he may as well be as they’ve been together for thirty years — spoke Spanish and English. She was fluid moving between the three languages, but I could only understand two of them (and only English, the most). We parted.
First time I saw this delivery method: a bike with a “kickstand” in the front.
When she came out, she kicked up the little set of wheels out of the way (you can see the hinged area in the front) and took off. I didn’t detect any motorized assist, and we were in area with slight hills.
The freakinmacstore. Most of this area seemed to be residential. See the post on Berlin doors (coming soon) to see some doors from this neighborhood.
I made it to Frau Tulpe. Since this was my first shopping expedition in this city, I didn’t know what to expect. In Geneva, I’d call the salespeople “brisk” and less inclined to put up with foreigners. But in Frau Tulpe, they were friendly and helpful, and spoke English. I’d heard that English was not as common in the former East Berlin, because they were schooled in Russian, but I rarely encountered any problem. Tulpe means “tulip,” and it was the original owner’s nickname. I left there, and kept walking downhill, detouring into a park (“The Volkspark am Weinberg”) with paved paths, and decorated birdhouses:
It sloped downward to a small lake — more like a pond, really — and people enjoying the sun.
I stopped to look at the menu of the Swiss restaurant that was on the top part of the slope, with a large terrace and delicious desserts. But I pressed on because I’d seen this:
I found Daluma, and ordered my avocado toast with poached egg (it was too cooked).
I sat outside on one of these square benches, and watched the yuppies come with their expensive baby strollers and fancy jewelry to meet and have a coffee.
The neighborhood has all been refreshed, from whatever existed thirty years ago.
Leaving the restaurant, I couldn’t figure out how to hop on a tram, so ended up walking downhill towards Hackescher Hof, my next destination, snapping photos along the way.
I meandered, finding interesting details such as a giant fan/windowshade in this loft window:
And another building undergoing rehabilitation, the cinderblocks exposed before getting their topcoast of plaster (I suppose).
I was trying to find Hackescher Hof, a series of joined courtyards, but instead found this one.
Colorful, but not the right one.
Panorama photographs distort the wonderful tile work. The buildings were all upright and vertical.
I explored the courtyards.
I found an Ampelmann Shop!
Nature’s gift of a shiny chestnut on the bench outside.
I came out the “back” of the eight inter-connected courtyards, and found a nutcracker shop. (I took Dave back there, but he wasn’t interested in anything.)
Time for a break, so I headed home to our hotel, just like these two young men, sharing a joke on the train.
(to be continued)
1 thought on “Frau Tulip, Hackescher Hof, and walking around in the Berlin Mitte”
I especially like the reminiscences of your trip in the early 90s juxtaposed with your experience this visit. It’s a nice reminder that life can change, not just from good to bad, but from bad to good, isn’t it?